Analytics For Child Protection

The Chicago Tribune recently ran a series describing the cycle of violence in Illinois residential treatment centers for children.   The irony of the series was children were placed in facilities to be protected from violence and then became victims of violence.

Stories like these are filed under a few usual categories:  improper ‘oversight’ of bad actor facilities, underfunding of mental health and child welfare, or simply the inevitable result of an intractable set of social problems.   These are certainly reasonable explanations.  But  the budgets of the agencies responsible for these programs are huge, billions.  There appears to be improper oversight, but the articles pointed out the tens of millions that are currently spent on oversight.

What if these situations are a symptom of a simple managerial failure to look at the right data at the right time?  Or just not having the right operational model to attack the problem? What if everything needed to deal with this issue was very much available? Is this an oversimplification of a complex and systemic issue? Most likely.

But what if we knew which residents of an institution were likely to be violent, what children were at risk of becoming victims, and which institutions were dangerous?

What if we knew this information in real time?  If we did, then the problem becomes simply following a set of rules.   First, put no child with high victim risk in an institution where there are children who have a history of victimizing.  Second, place no child in a treatment center that has a recent history of violence.  Third, make reimbursement dependent on violent incident rates and offer monetary upside for centers that control violence.   Finally, respond to every violent incident report in real time and identify and eliminate the cause of the safety breakdown.   Was it too few staff? The wrong kind of staff?  Improper monitoring or too many violent kids?  The wrong mix of kids in the center?

No problem like this is easily solved.  There are issues here that depend on the larger foster care and mental health system that are fundamental.  But our guess is the citizens of Illinois would feel a whole lot better about kids who do end up in residential treatment if there was a proactive data-driven system in place to protect them.

The tools, both in terms of measurement expertise and technology, are easily available for this model of protection.  We know because Objective Arts builds this kind of technology and has worked with governments and academic experts for years on models for serving and protecting kids.

We believe its time to try something new.   These stories pop up in the Tribune every few years. The response is largely the same: bring in an expert academic or industry group, convene a panel, start inspecting centers, suspend a few of the particularly bad treatment centers, fire a few people, publish a report a year later, ….and wait for the same headline and horrific stories in another few years.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *